Your Body During a Breakup: The Science of a Broken Heart

Breakups are emotional roller coasters. Actually that’s not true. If a breakup was anything like a roller coaster the end would be visible from the start, you could say ‘no thanks’ to the ride and at the end of it, for a hefty sum the memory could be savoured forever with a flimsy cardboard-framed photo.

Breakups are are more like being under a roller coaster. 

Before we knew the science we knew the feeling, and used words associated with physical pain – hurt, pain, ache – are used describe the pain of a relationship breakup. Now we know why. The emotional pain of a breakup and physical pain have something in common – they both activate the same part of the brain

Brain scans of people recently out of a relationship have revealed that social pain (the emotional pain from a breakup or rejection) and physical pain share the same neural pathways.

In one study, 40 people who had recently been through an unwanted breakup had their brains scanned while they looked at pictures of their exes and thought about the breakup. As they stared at the photos, the part of the brain associated with physical pain lit up.

[irp posts=”1144″ name=”Dear Broken Hearted One … When You’re In The Thick of a Break-Up.”]

As explained by researcher Ethan Kross, ‘We found that powerfully inducing feelings of social rejection activate regions of the brain that are involved in physical pain sensation, which are rarely activated in neuroimaging studies of emotion.’

He continues, ‘These findings are consistent with the idea that the experience of social rejection, or social loss more generally, may represent a distinct emotional experience that is uniquely associated with physical pain.’

In further support of the overlap between physical and social pain, Tylenol (an over the counter medication for physical pain) has been shown to reduce emotional hurt.

Research has found that people who took Tylenol (an over-the-counter medication for physical pain) for three weeks reported less hurt feelings and social pain on a daily basis than those who took a placebo.

The effect was also evident in brain scans. When feelings of rejection were induced, the part of the brain associated with physical pain lit up in participants who didn’t take Tylenol. Those who took Tylenol showed significantly less activity in that part of the brain.

Nobody is suggesting that the broken hearted turn to pain medication to reduce their lean towards Kleenex, Baskin-Robbins and repeated viewings of Love Actually. Long term use will cane the liver. Somebody else is waiting to fall in love with you, but you and your liver have to stay friends forever.

The Physical Side of a Broken Heart

The human brain loves love. Being in love takes the lid off the happy hormones, dopamine and oxytocin, and the brain bathes in the bliss. But when the one you love leaves, the supply of feel good hormones takes a dive and the brain releases stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine.

[irp posts=”1042″ name=”Letting Go: How to Master the Art”]

In small doses, stress hormones are heroic, ensuring we respond quickly and effectively to threat. However in times of long-term distress such as a broken heart, the stress hormones accumulate and cause trouble. Here’s what’s behind the physical symptoms of a breakup:

  • Too much cortisol in the brain sends blood to the major muscle groups. They tense up ready to respond to the threat (fight or flight). However, without real need for a physical response the muscles have no opportunity to expend the energy.

    Muscles swell, giving rise to headaches, a stiff neck and that awful feeling of your chest being squeezed.

  • To ensure the muscles have an adequate blood supply, cortisol diverts blood away from the digestive system.

    This can cause tummy trouble such as cramps, diarrhea or appetite loss. 

  • When stress hormones run rampant, the immune system can struggle, increasing vulnerability to bugs and illnesses.

    Hence the common ‘break-up cold’.

  • There is a steady release of cortisol.

    This might cause sleep problems and interfere with the capacity to make sound judgements 

  • Breakups activate the area of your brain that processes craving and addiction.

    Losing a relationship can throw you into a type of withdrawal, which is why it’s hard to function – you ache for your ex, sometimes literally, and can’t get him/her out of your head. Like any addiction, this will pass.

In a relationship, your mind, your body and the core of you adjust to being intimately connected someone. When that someone leaves, the brain has to readjust. The pain can be relentless but eventually the body chemistry will change back to normal and the hurt will diminish.

Getting through a breakup is as much a physical process as an emotional one. Remember that, and know that it will get easier. Keep going. You’ll get there.

451 Comments

Jeanette

How long does it hurt for? Going on 3 years now and I’m starting to think the pain will last forever. 3 years of a steady release of cortisol can’t be good for my system.

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Riya

Its because you allowed your pain to be alive. Our brain keeps reminding us ( because of the comfort that person provided) – everything is replaceable if we wish too. what if that person died? you would have moved on right?

People meet for a reason/lesson. You did not waste 30 years – so get back on track please.

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T

Wow! It’s really eye opening and oddly helpful to read everyone’s stories. My girlfriend and I broke up officially a little more than a month ago now. It’s been an emotional journey for a long time as we were doing long distance before the pandemic hit. We hadn’t seen each other for a month and a half and then when quarantine hit we weren’t able to see one other for 4 month’s…. That was hard. I lost some of my passion for the relationship. Facetime wasn’t cutting it anymore, the depression of losing both our jobs from Covid was stressful, and I think both of our priorities just shifted… When we did finally get the chance to reunite it felt different. She was the same beautiful person I remembered but something was just off. I didn’t know how to be with her again and that hurt me. We both had our insecurities about how to proceed so she asked me all these question’s that now I’ve realized had answered poorly. I wanted to give her an answer but should have taken more time to process. This ended is us taking a break. That lasted about two weeks until I called her up and told her that ‘my life without you in any capacity is less light and I am ready to see you again’. We had both moved back to our parent’s houses temporarily in CA. I was in SoCal, she was in NorCal so I bought a car to help with commuting back and forth trying to balance taking care of my family, our relationship, COVID, and myself. This started to take it’s toll on me… I was no longer showing up as much as I needed to and that effected a lot of things. As time moved forward we both realized it was time to go back home. We were planned a road trip across the country that my girlfriend wanted to do. I was planning it for her cause I knew how badly she wanted to do it and I had been looking forward to it also. Had my share of concerns and worries about it but I was able to set that aside because I wanted this trip to help of relationship. So one thing led to another, I was in SoCal with my family and she was up North. I was still being a little distant over the phone cause I was dealing with some family stuff. That left my girlfriend uncertain about the trip and 2 days before we were supposed to leave she called me to say ‘I don’t think we should do this, and we should break up’ So we did…

A few months later I found myself back in the same city as her so we reconnected. And let me tell you, I fell in love with her all over again and I wanted her back. She told me she was afraid of getting hurt again so she became a little hesitant with me about how to proceed forward. Which I understood. I didn’t want to get hurt either. We were kinda playing games with each other for a few weeks. Feeling like we were dating again but really not confused me. We were both lonely and enjoyed each others presence and she said with me its ‘just easy’. I didn’t want to be someone’s easy, she didn’t want to get back together so to save us both the emotional confusion we split up for good…

I think of her everyday.

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Reanne L

Hi there…
I read your thoughts on break ups and this really helped me. I appreciate the information. I’m 22 years old and I’ve been in a relationship since high school for 6 years. Yup. We were high school sweethearts but the relationship was always on and off. When I went away to college we maintained the relationship but he would always lie to me. He even traveled to see me (12 hours away from our hometown) and still hid text messages from me, etc. When I returned back home for summer vacation I took a class at my local community College. A girl I thought they were just friends with sat next to me. She told me one time he got drunk and confessed his feelings for her a few months back. I was so confused because we were together during that time. Anyways, this was the first time I felt betrayed by him. I eventually forgave him and we got back together shortly after that incident even though I never let it go. When I graduated from college he even went to my ceremony. I studied abroad in England for 4 months, he flew out to visit me. We traveled to Italy and Amsterdam for Xmas. You get the picture. We have so many memories together. Despite being extremely toxic, I have love for him so much. I was so comfortable around him. When I came back from Europe last year, I moved in with him at his parents house. I got comfortable and stayed there not working or contributing to rent (his parents didn’t mind). My ex wanted to help me with commuting to work so he co-signed a car for me. Yes, we financed a car together. This was a bad idea…. Anyways, being stuck in a room together we would always argue. He never made effort to go out on dates or do anything. Now I will say for the past 6 years the relationship was never perfect. In fact, we do have a history of domestic abuse. Last September was the final straw. We got in an altercation and the cops were involved. I moved out of his house and from there it officially ended. I took the car and we both still did payments on it .We would still keep in contact with eachother but only for hookups. We would get hotels or have sex in the car at night. Never go out in the day or talk and get closure. My ex used me for sex and I accepted going back to him because it was my way of feeling loved and close to him, in the moment. A month ago on New years, I woke up and my car was gone. He traded it in for a new one. Was going to drop off my stuff in bags on my porch the next morning. Also, he met another girl and they both like eachother. Keep in mind, me and my ex hooked up 2 weeks before. On this day he took my car, I confronted him and he met me at a gas station. He told me he never loved me and it was just a bad attachment. He never loved me for 6 years. Is that even possible? While he was telling me all these hurtful things, he wasn’t looking at me in my eyes. He looked away. Couldn’t stare at me at all. He dropped me off my house and told me to move on and find someone better because he did. Its been a month and im still grieving. How can someone move on so quick when you were just talking to them weeks prior?? Its only been 5 months after we broke up and I miss him like crazy. I keep going back to him because he did message me for sex again. I asked him what happened to his new girl & he said they are “just friends.” I feel so used and I know its my fault for not valuing my self worth.

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Riya

Be grateful that you learnt all these lessons at a early age:)

something good is waiting for you. Stay Positive.

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John

I was with my girl for 8 years. November of 2020 she decided to leave me because of things we been through in the past. I love her deeply and sincerely and worked so hard to change my ways in order to be with her. I went against friends and family for her. I gave her all of me every piece inch by inch. Despite the things we put each other through I never expected her to just give up on me. I couldn’t leave her the way she left me. I feel like I was stripped of my life. I don’t have the urge to eat I can barely sleep, I’m always anxious and nervous, my chest constantly feels like I’m being pounded by a gorilla. I can’t stop the thought of her. I even have suicidal thoughts. I believe there is better for me but I only want her. My heart is literally in pain and I can feel that pain everyday and I have been feeling it for 3 months now. I’m lost and don’t know what to do.

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Riya

Hi, I understand how it feels. Been there until Jan. I understand 8 years is huge investment and you reach a point where you feel that there is no goal and no happiness left. The suicidal thing is also a trick by brain ( to make her guilty) – She may cry for you for 2 weeks max and left moves on. The revenge is show her that you moved on!

This is what I did to move on:
1) I started writing everything I felt and emailed to myself with his name.
2) I allowed myself to cry.
3) I was also not able to focus on work but watched movies instead and felt better.
4) You will be lost and time is the healer.

Believe me – I am out of it, you will be too:) Keep smiling.

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K. Armstrong

Wow. who would have thought that a broken heart would lead me to google to people who are feeling exactly like me. Ruby I understand when you say how bad is feels that someone you invested in and loved and spent time with is now enjoying life without you while you sit and fall to pieces. I am angry at myself, I am angry at him, I feel like how dare you after all that I have done. I am confused and I just don’t understand. My friends are like girl get over it you will be fine. I know this but I dont feel fine today, yesterday and I dont think tomorrow. My stomache aches like a piece of my heart is letting off gases in it. I can’t sleep, I cant listen to the radio because the songs either remind me of him, or words i wish i could say now. The crazy part is I dont want to be back with him I just want this pain to go away for him to hurt like me and to discover that I was a good woman to me. But the reality of that happening is slim to none i actually have a better chance of my heart healing sooner than later. This article was amazing and deep it is crazy how the brain can get use to the presence of someone and actually grieve when that person is gone. Wow…

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James

A girl and I started talking in the summer. We were kind of forced into talking by mutual friends hooking us up even though I wasn’t already over my last relationship (a total disaster and given the person she was, I regret being so hurt by her). This new girl though was crazy about me and I wasn’t as much about her. After months of hanging out and trying to like her she went off to college. She then decided to leave me and once she left, I realized what I had lost. I fought for her back and finally changed her mind. From then on we were on and off about how we felt about each other. The girl I knew before college had changed and I didn’t realize why. She was constantly going to frat parties, ditching our weekend plans when her friends would all of a sudden hit her up, and trying to make me jealous. I had problems with her ex of three years still being on her instagram and she refused to take them down. It wasn’t insecurity, but I just felt like it should be taken down in respect for me. Our relationship seemed to be endless fighting and she ended up leaving me and I was okay with it, for a few months. We blocked each other on everything, and then one day she texted me and asked for me to unblock her. All my old emotions came back and I felt like I needed her. After a week of me blowing up her phone trying to win her back, she then told me she was seeing someone else and that I needed to let her be happy. Her dad texted me and told me to quit stalking and texting her. I feel so hopeless thinking I was the cause of such a toxic relationship. I feel like a controlling manipulator and a verbally abusive guy. I have called her names before that I regret completely. Even though we fought all the time over text, when we were in person everything went away and we even joked about our fights. I can’t help but feel I forced someone who really cared about me away. This is the worst feeling I have ever felt in my life, and I don’t see how I am going to come out of this. I would not wish this feeling on even my worst enemy. I wish I could have looked past things and been okay with things she did. The girl before college was the most amazing girl in the world and I can’t get it out of my head. I feel like I didn’t treat her right and that’s why it ended. I regret every fight and toxic thing we did. It truly feels like the end of the world. The thought of her finding someone who will treat her right and me being that guy that brought her down is the worst feeling in the world. I no longer have any motivation and I am at the lowest point I have ever been in my life. I don’t feel like a good guy and I wish I could have been there for her.

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adheha

..Plz don’t blame yourself .. you are a good guy and plz don’t forget different situations bring different personalities and as we grow and break we learn a lot abt ourselves…it has happened don’t punish yourself…de most important thing you are sorry and u hv realized ur mistakes ..that’s great thing cz most times we fail to admit our own mistakes …but you are not alone the right person will come into ur life ND am sure u will treat her de right way ..

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Anastasios

Man we are twins seriously i have the exact same story except not college it is university in my country. I know the feeling when someone wants you as crazy and you dont if it ends they change and after that happens everything goes to shit. I can’t tell you everything is going to be alright cause this happened to me 1 week ago and i know how you feel . I suggest do what i do. Try to close to yourself and start watching things i would suggest not romantic dramas for your own good ,but try to fill the emptiness with stupid information for a while after that go to a doctor and talk

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Anon

Damn, this explains a lot. It’s probably been a month since I decided to brake up with my boyfriend. He… wasn’t who I thought he was. He lied to my face and still hung out with his ex that ‘hurt him sooo much’. It caused me anxiety, every day having to face him, knowing he was doing all this.

And even after we broke it off, I tried to be good and friendly to him. Now he just sends messages about being back with his ex and how nice she is, and how am i going.

Help? I’ve already blocked him, but Is there any way to stop feeling pain, sadness and anger when he tries to talk to me?

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Riya

This is because you still have not accepted that he is gone.

You still have hope dear – please come out of this illusion. Your self respect matters – you cant be with a cheater.

You deserve someone better:)

Pain will be around until we decide to let go – Its who you need to tell your self that he is Bad and I just move on. Talking to yourself helps a lot.

Fall in love with yourself and be best friend to you. It helped me.

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Nat

My partner ended our 2.5 year relationship almost 2 months ago. He says he loves me, and does actually act as though he does, but he cant cope with the fact I’m still friends with my ex. (We have a daughter together and he has always disliked that my ex is still around). We had no contact for around 4 weeks and I was totally crushed. Then his friend died aged 25 and he called me immediately and needed me there. We spent a couple of days together while I helped him with his grief and he said he was taking things one day at a time…never know what might happen in the future…was not looking to meet anyone else (he had always been a loner before we met)…he would kiss my forehead and stroke my arm. I do believe that he still loves me but just cant deal with my situation. He said he will always be there for me and I was the best thing that ever happened to him…but now I’ve not heard from him in a few days and it’s like my chest is being crushed in a vice all over again. I cry every day. I cant concentrate on anything. I cant eat. I literally CAN NOT think of anything other than him and I’m now worrying that I’m becoming obsessed and it’ll never go away. I cant see any future and I just cant live in this pain anymore. I’m also drinking more to numb it a little but cant do that forever.
I’m 43. Who’s going to want me? How do I ever find anyone else? I dont want to be alone. I hate it. I’m desperate for him to phone, be a friend, be in my life as he says he wants but I also know it will only prolong my pain. I really wish I could just delete him from everything, erase all memories of him and move on but I just dont have the strength to do that. I’m weak and pathetic. I know if he calls I’ll answer and would go over if he needed me because thats what stops the pain! The turmoil in my head is completely unbearable and I honestly dont know how long I can go on with the pain there all day every day.
He’s young, attractive, chatty, nice flat, no ties … he could have someone else anytime he wants (although deep down has gambling issues and significant mental health issues which he wouldnt show for a while) and that is killing me. Is he dating already? This is absolute, utter torture. When will it end?

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James

Hi Nat,

I was struck by your comment as my situation is pretty similar, in the sense that I have ongoing contact with my ex who left me and the contact is making things worse and worse, even though it’s so hard to refrain from being in contact as it’s so hard to let go of someone you love so much. When you said “I’m 43 and who is going to love me?” I really felt that…I was 44 last week and feel just like that… when you are in a committed relationship at this age you think this relationship will last forever and dealing with the loss is even harder because of the worry about the future.

Have things improved for you since you posted your comment? Would be good to know as I’m feeling pretty lost as to how to manage the anxiety and pain.

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Marnita M

Hi I agree I’m really struggling with my boyfriend I feel it we emotional 😭 I have never been literally so hurt physically sick that I feel bugs crawling on me

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Ash.

Same here sis, it’s 5.52 am in the morning and I’m unable to sleep cz of all the pain and trauma I’m going through, it’s getting worse day by day.

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sad

i lived with my boyfriend for 6 years, we are deeply connected and we understand each other in a way no one else can. we are a part of each others family, we talked about how we would be together forever. idk what happened, he broke up with me last week. i feel like im going to die.

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Chloe

I feel everyone’s pain on this and I have reverted the same to ask google, how do I mend this broken heart feeling, I am currently in University studying a degree in Psychology and I can honesty tell you scientifically its the same process as grief. We will go through 5 different stages: Shock, Pain, Guilt, Depression, in the end its acceptance. I feel Lockdown and this pandemic has destroyed a lot of relationships including my own, it was me and him against lockdown and lockdown defeated us. The amount of weight I have lost due to this, moving out, finding my own place to live, all’s whilst grieving a person I called my Best Friend. There are so many ‘What ifs?’ running through my head. I have found comfort in reading all your replies knowing I am not the only one in this. Please can we reach out to each other.

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Ruby

I totally feel you . I am also going through the same situation, and it totally sucks. My emotions have been hard to cope with. The amount of stress I have been going through this year lead me to depression. Even worse after a break-up I totally lost myself, even worse. I don’t have anyone to vent to but a couple of friends and it sad because you are so use to a person being your best friend and there not there anymore. This feeling is way to ugly and knowing that they are having fun without you is just a shitty feeling, while you are suffering alone.

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Taylor B

Smh I feel the exact same way. He was my only friend..my best friend. The only person I want to run and talk to is the one that caused the pain. It’s so cruel

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nana

Ruby, I’m in the same situation, only I’m 70 years old and he is 63. I look for his truck on the road look to see if he’s called and what makes things really bad, we work at the same place. I never thought he would cheat on me. We Have been together 13 years!!!!! I feel betrayed, lost, and broken hearted. I’m so lonely and he has another to make him happy. ( A rich young widow). I cry everyday. When will this pain go away. I know my family and friends are tired of hearing me cry and whine. I thought we were going to last forever. Nothing last forever. So sad.

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buyorbye

I dated my boyfriend for two years and suddenly he had to leave me because the relationship is only suffocating him. I feel lost with his disappearance as if my body refuses to work like usual. I have no appetite. I can’t sleep at night. I keep having stomachache or even fever. Half of me is gone and I can no longer feel alive. Everytime I wake up, I always hope I die. I can’t really get through a day without crying. This pain and trauma haunts me everyday. I feel useless. I have an abandonment issue.

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Loryee

Dear Sad,
I understand your pain. A break up is always extremely heart breaking to the point we’re confusions starts to arise and your thoughts and emotions start racing 100 mph. At this point, you’re trying to find comfort. Desperately looking for answers and wanting to heal that broken heart! You’ll need to give it some space/time if you are or have tried reaching out to him and he isn’t giving you answers and is ignoring you. Give it a bit of a time you don’t want to push him further. I know it’s hard but, take this time to reflect and to look deep within yourself, the relationship, and his actions. Where there any indications in the relationship where you notice his behaviors being odd? Or did you see any subtle changes in terms of his demeanor towards you? or any comments that you can think of that might have led to the sudden break up and you might have missed those cues?! Or did you hear your ex expressing a certain issue and you didn’t think much of it? Did you feel him slowly distancing himself but you thought otherwise? Was he overwhelm in anyway maybe work, life, family that you might have missed? Did you pressure him in any subject he wasn’t ready for? Did you suspect any cheating on his part? The question that we all answers to is… WHY?! Why did he just walk away like that if things were good between you and him? Whatever that may be, again, I am not justifying your ex behaviors, of him all of a sudden leaving you the way he did. It’s wrong and he should of had the common courtesy to talk to you if you were together for that long. I believe everyone deserves an explanation no matter the length of time you’ve been with your loved one, partner or boyfriend. I hope when things settle down and you’ve gather your thoughts/emotions and he has too, that he realizes his error of his ways and will be willing to explain his reasoning. I hope that you get your answers for the sake of your well being.

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Keith T

Same my fiancé broke up with me after dating 9 years right as I got back from Italy. I was in the army as a paratrooper. My heart aches so badly and nothing is helping me to get over it. My whole life has been with her (high school sweethearts) and I just don’t know what to do. She said she needed time to get to know herself. I don’t know what that means to be honest.

Reply

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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